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Title: History of the Reformation - Holy Scripture and the Lord’s Supper at Geneva (January and February, 1533.)
Author: John Calvin
Language: English

32 00005-0031 Holy Scripture and the Lord's Supper at Geneva 
(January and February, 1533.)

FROMENT’ S departure did but increase the love of the Gospel in serious minds. Deprived of what they considered their right — hearing the Gospel preached — they suffered from the want, and were determined to free themselves from the spiritual destitution to which they were reduced by the clerical system. Others felt no less decided aspirations for liberty, and were unwittingly the instruments of a greater revolution than they had imagined. These Genevans felt, as if by inspiration, that at the beginning of the sixteenth century society was passing through a crisis, and that a new phase was opening for mankind. They did more than observe it: they were personally the chief actors in the revolution that was about to be accomplished in the world. Leaving the barren nations in their lifeless stagnation, the men of this little city shouted ‘Forward!’ and rushed into the arena.

Froment had hardly left Geneva before the partisans of the reformation raised their heads. The Romish church had on its side the bishop-prince, the clergy, the Friburgers, and even the majority of the council and people; but if the friends of reform were in a minority as regards material force, they surpassed their adversaries in moral strength. The historian asserts that from this moment the two parties were nearly equal in power. The grey friar Bocquet, who ‘had managed with so much address,’ says a manuscript, ‘that both parties went to hear him with equal eagerness,’ now began to preach the christian truth more openly. The astonished priests were still more exasperated against the monk than they had been against the reformer, and solicited that he should be silenced.

The hands of the clergy were ere long strengthened by a powerful ally. On February 23, six Friburg councilors, stanch catholics, entered Geneva, the bearers of a threatening letter. ‘If you wish to become Lutherans,’ said they to the council, ‘Friburg renounces your alliance.’ The syndics answered to no purpose that they desired to live as their forefathers had done: the Friburgers made a great disturbance about the grey friar’s sermons, and the council decided, ‘for the love of peace,’ that Bocquet should leave Geneva.

The friends of the Gospel, seeing that even the Franciscan was taken from them, did not lose heart. The Holy Scriptures remained: they read in their homes Lefevre’s new Testament, and formed meetings at which the Word of God was explained. The assemblies ‘which took place in the houses here and there were multiplied,’ and the number of believers increased every day. They met ordinarily at the end of the Rue des Allemands, at the house of Baudichon de la Maisonneuve, who henceforward became a most zealous protestant. Sprung from a noble and powerful family in the republic, he had a decided character and some talent, and carried to extremes his convictions and his desire to make them succeed. Individual life had prevailed during the feudal times; in the sixteenth century the social element was growing stronger every day. There were, however, certain natures which still maintained their independent individualism, and Baudichon was one of them. Accordingly, so long as it was only a question of destroying the old order of things, he acquitted himself valiantly; but he was less useful, when it was necessary to build up the new order. He seems, however, to have been aware of his own insufficiency. His arms were a house (maison ), and above the crest an open hand with these words: except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.

The Lord did build: assemblies were formed, and Baudichon’s house became the catacombs (says an old author) in which the new christians held their humble meetings. They arrived, saluted each other fraternally, sat down in a large room, and remained a few moments in silence. They knew that though they were many, they had all one sole Mediator, present in the midst of them although unseen. Then one of them would read a portion of Scripture, another of the better informed explained and applied it, and a third prayed… .The believers departed edified from their meetings, ‘which were so different (they said) from the pope’s mass.’

Sometimes a great treat was granted them. Some evangelical foreigner passed through Geneva; the news spread immediately to every family; the place and time were named when he would preach, and the believers flocked thither from every quarter. ‘What is his name?’ they asked one day. ‘Peter Maneri.’ ‘What is he?’ ‘A minister.’ ‘Where is he staying?’ ‘At Claude Pasta’s.’ And Claude Pasta’s rooms were filled immediately.

These first evangelicals of Geneva were not content merely with being taught sound doctrine; they knew that a cold knowledge of God can save no man, and that it is necessary to live with the Spirit of Christ, and as He lived. They had formed a fired among themselves, and Salomon was the treasurer. Every one brought his mite for the relief of the poor, whether Genevans or foreigners. Thus these christians learnt at once to believe, to love, and to give.

Two kinds of protestantism were already beginning, however, to appear in Geneva, which have not ceased and perhaps never will cease to exist — an external and an internal protestantism. The pious and humble Guerin had a servant who, full of admiration for his master’s sermons, was also a great talker. One day, wishing to do the same as his master, he began to preach in the open street before a number of people. ‘Why do you go to mass?’ he said: ‘you are idolaters… Instead of worshipping God, you adore a wafer!’ The poor orator was taken up and compelled to leave the city in consequence of his sermon. Another day some huguenots entered a pastrycook’s shop: it was a Saturday in Lent. They asked for a plate of meat. ‘Impossible,’ said the master. ‘Not so much ceremony,’ rudely returned the huguenots. The pastrycook ran off to inform against them, and they were condemned to pay a fine of sixty sous each, which occasioned some disturbance. ‘Lutherans, huguenots, heretics!’ shouted one party; ‘Pharisees, mamelukes, papists!’ answered the other. In the midst of these disturbances the most important work of the reformation was progressing at Geneva. The pious Olivetan was laboring night and day at the translation of the Bible. He believed that nothing was more necessary for the church of his time, and in his great love for it, he determined to do all in his power to supply the want. ‘O poor little church,’ he said, ‘although thou art desolate, misshapen, and rejected, and countest for the most part in thy family the blind, the lame, the maimed, the deaf, the paralytic, orphans and strangers, simple and foolish.., why should we be ashamed to make thee such a royal present? Do we not all need the consolation of Christ? For whom does the Lord destine his Scripture, if not for his little invincible band, to whom, as the real leader of the war, he desires to impart courage and boldness by his presence?’ Nothing disturbed Olivetan so much as the sight of the church of his day.

The more he studied it, the more he was grieved by its misery and convinced of the necessity of a total reformation, accomplished by the Word of God. Never perhaps had its condition caused so profound and keen a sorrow in any one. When he was alone in his room and seated at his table, these bitter recollections would recur to him: ‘I love thee,’ he exclaimed; ‘I have seen thee in the service of thy hard masters; I have seen thee coming and going, worried and plagued; I have seen thee ill-treated, illdressed, ill-used, ragged, muddy, torn, disheveled, chilled, bruised, beaten, and disfigured… I have seen thee in such piteous case, that men would sooner take thee for a poor slave than the daughter of the universal Ruler, and the beloved of his only Son. Listen,’ added he, ‘thy friend calls thee; he endeavors to teach thee thy rights and to give thee the watch-word, that thou mayest attain to perfect freedom… Stupefied and bewildered by so many blows, bowed down by so many cares brought upon thee by thy rough masters, wilt thou persevere? wilt thou go thy ways and complete the foul and grievous task with which they have burdened thee?’ But Olivetan soon stopped in the midst of his work, and asked himself whether ‘the humble translator’ (as he calls himself) was capable of performing such a task. He looked upon himself as the meanest of believers, ‘as one of the smallest toes on the lowly feet of the body of the church.’ But his very humility induced him to increase in diligence. He procured the best copies of the Scriptures and compared, as he tells us, ‘all the translations, ancient and modern, from the Greek down to the Italian and German.’ Above all, he made great use of the French translation by Lefevre of Etaples, but rendered certain passages differently. He studied the various texts, the use of the Masoretic points, marks, consonants, aspirates, and unusual expressions. He deliberated whether he should preserve in French certain Greek terms, such as apostle and bishop, or express them by the corresponding word in French. ‘If I preserve the Greek word,’ he said, ‘the thing which it signifies will remain unknown, just as it has been to the present day.’ He therefore translated the Greek word: apostle by the French word envoye (sent); instead of bishop he wrote surveillant (overseer); and ancien (elder) instead of priest. Then he added mischievously: ‘And if any one is surprised at not finding certain words in my translation which the common people have continually on their lips, imagining they are in Scripture, such as pope, cardinal, archbishop, archdeacon, abbot, prior, monk, he must know than I did not find them there, and for that reason I have not changed them.’ On the 13th March the printer De Vingle asked permission to print the Bible in French. The council was much divided, for the friends of the clergy opposed his prayer. On the one side they called out Scripture! and on the other Church! The syndics thought it their duty to steer a middle course, and granted permission to reprint Lefevre’s Bible without adding or retrenching a word. They were afraid of Olivetan’s translation, and we shall see by and by where he was forced to get it printed. Another desire absorbed the evangelicals of Geneva about this time. When Guerin, Levet, Chautemps, and others met together in some humble room, they expressed the happiness they should feel at assembling round the Lord’s table to commemorate his death. They had long ceased to take part in the communion of the Romish Church, defiled as they thought it by wretched superstitions; and desired earnestly to see the Lord’s Supper reestablished among them in its apostolic purity. The christians of Geneva asked for the Bible in the first place, and for the Sacrament in the second.

That is in the regular course. The Word of God creates the christian: the Lord’s Supper strengthens him. Christ first imparts to his disciples the knowledge of the truth, which he does by the ministry of the Word. Then he desires them to understand that he gives not only christian ideas to believers, but that he gives himself his own life — that he comes (in his own words) to abide in them. This is the second phase of faith, and the Lord’s Supper is its sign.

The christians of Geneva, enlightened by Scripture, desired the Holy Communion. But, said they, who will give it us? They had no ministers.

Had not Luther declared ten years before that in order to avoid irregularity, the assembly, making use of its right, ought to elect one or more believers to exercise the charge of the Word, in the name of all? They turned their eyes on Guerin. Few of the reformed were so much esteemed as he was.

Being an evangelical christian and not a political huguenot, he had ‘an ardent love for his brethren,’ and a zeal full of boldness to profess the Gospel. It required some courage to preside at the Lord’s Supper in Geneva in the presence of the Romish mass. ‘The flesh is always cowardly,’ said a christian of Geneva, ‘and pulls backwards, like an aged ass; and accordingly it needs the goad and spur as much as he does.’ Guerin possessed, moreover, a cultivated understanding, and was learned in theology. There remained one question: Where should the communion be held? — ’At Baudichon’s,’ answered one of them. ‘No,’ said the more prudent; ‘not in the city for fear of the opposition of the priests, who are very irritated already.’ Upon this Stephen d’Adda said, ‘I have a little walled garden near the city gates, where nobody can disturb us.’ The place was selected, the day named, and an hour fixed which would permit them to meet without disturbance. It was early in the morning, as it would appear. When the day arrived, many persons went out of the city and quietly directed their steps towards D’Adda’s garden, situated in a place called Pre l’Eveque, because the bishop had a house there. A table had been prepared in a room or in the open air. The believers as they arrived took their seats in silence on the rude benches, not without fear that the priests should get information of the furtive meeting. Guerin sat down in front of the table. Just at the moment (we are told) when the ceremony was about to begin, the sun rose and illumined with his first rays a scene more imposing in its simplicity than the mountains capped with everlasting snow, above which the star of day was beginning his course. The pious Guerin stood up, and after a prayer he distributed the bread and wine, and all together praised the Lord. The communicants quitted D’Adda’s garden full of gratitude towards God.

It was not long, however, before their peace was troubled. Their enemies could not contain themselves, and threatened nothing less than excommunication and imprisonment. There were disputes. The priests shrugged their shoulders at the sight of those paltry assemblies. They said that the reformed, by busying themselves so much about Christ, deprived themselves of the Church ; while Olivetan and Guerin maintained that the catholics, by speaking so much of the Church, deprived themselves of Christ. The meeting of a few souls endowed with a lively faith, who came to glorify Jesus Christ, was (they believed) a truer church than the pope, cardinals, and all the pomps of the Vatican. The exasperated priests vented their anger especially on Guerin, and the danger which threatened him was so great, that he had to leave the city. Hurrying quickly away, he took refuge at Yvonand with his friend Froment, from whom he had received so much enlightenment. Thus Farel, Froment, and Guerin were compelled, one after another, to quit Geneva; but the catholics labored in vain: ‘the reformed met every day in houses or gardens to pray to God, to sing psalms and christian hymns, and to explain Holy Scripture. And the people began to dispute with the priests, and to discuss with them publicly.’ Thus there were two winds blowing in different directions at Geneva — one from the north, the other from the south. They could not fail to come into violent collision and to engender a frightful tempest.